Bay leaf and california bay leaf

Other Names: Bay leaf: Bay laurel; cooking bay; dafni (Greek); defne (Turkish); Greek laurel; laural (Spanish); laurel; laurier or laurier noble (French); lauro (Italian); llor (Catalan); louro (Portuguese); Mediterranean bay leaf; poet’s laurel; rand or waraq ghaar (Arabic); sweet bay; Turkish bay leaf; victor’s laurel. California bay leaf: California laurel; Oregon myrtle; pepperwood.

General Description: Bay leaves come from the ancient Mediterranean bay laurel tree (Laurus nobilis) and are one of the most widely used culinary herbs in Europe and North America. The bay laurel tree has been cultivated since the beginning of recorded history. The term baccalaureate (and bachelor) for academic degrees is derived from baccalaureus (laurel berry), because of the ancient Greek and Roman practice of honoring scholars and poets with garlands of bay branches. The plump, oval-shaped bay laurel leaves, which are shiny, medium green, and sturdy with slightly rough edges, have a sweet, full-bodied aroma. The fresh and dried leaves, dried berries, and leaf oil are used for flavoring, while the wood is used as an aromatic smoke flavoring. The berries’ robust taste marries well with venison and potatoes.

California bay leaves come from an evergreen tree (Umbellularia californica) related to bay laurel that is common in coastal forests of western North America. The leaves are long, narrow ovals that, unlike their Mediterranean counterparts, are smooth-edged and dark grayish green. They’re highly aromatic with a potent resinous character. Use California bay leaves the same way as Mediterranean bay leaves but in half the quantity, because they’re much stronger.

Season: Dried leaves are more common, but fresh Mediterranean bay leaves can occasionally be found in summer months. California bay leaves are sold fresh and dried throughout the year.

Purchase and Avoid: Dried bay leaves may be purchased as whole leaves, broken bits, or a powder. Whether buying fresh or dry, choose whole leaves with the brightest green color and strongest aroma you can find. Purchase pliable fresh California bay leaves that are deep green, not faded gray. For best flavor, bay leaves should not be used more than 1 year after harvest.

Note: Both fresh and dried Mediterranean and California bay leaves have sharp edges that can actually tear your inner organs, so be sure not to eat them. Use them to flavor foods, and remove the leaves before serving. California bay leaves should be used with care because the leaves contain umbellulone, which can cause convulsive sneezing, headaches, and sinus irritation when inhaled deeply.

Serving Suggestions: Add bay leaves to slow-cooked sauces and stocks or when poaching fish or seafood. Poach pears in red or white wine syrup with bay leaves, peppercorns, and a strip of orange or lemon zest. Add a pinch of ground bay leaf to a Bloody Mary.

Food Affinities: Artichoke, beet, celery root, chicken, corned beef, fish, potato, roast duck, roast pork, tomato sauce.

from Quirk Books: